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Dr. Phil’s clarion call to an urgent American conversation with ourselves

American flag flapping in dark ominous sky
American flag flapping in dark ominous sky | iStock / Getty Images Plus/tirc83

When one writes a weekly column, it is best to, as we say in Texas, “sit loose in the saddle.” That means that you are planning a series of columns, doing research, preparing outlines, and then something crosses your path that you feel you must pursue immediately, postponing other planned columns until later.

I had precisely this experience this week when I ran across a new book at the local bookstore. Dr. Phillip McGraw (yes, that “Dr. Phil” of TV fame has written a new book, We’ve Got Issues. How You Can Stand Strong for America’s Soul and Sanity (New York: Threshold Editions, 2024).

Dr. Phil writes straightforwardly and addresses the issues like the college football linebacker he once was (some of us fellow linebackers would argue, “once a linebacker, always a linebacker!”).

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He commissioned a comprehensive study of American culture, and he emphasizes throughout that he is addressing culture, not politics, problems that go way deeper than the Republican-Democrat divide.

He points to a toxicity in our culture that manifests itself in myriad ways:

  • From the 1950s to today, the percentage of Americans who don’t feel free to express their views has tripled. (p. 8)
  • Eighty-four percent of Americans today say that the fear of retaliation or criticism causing people not to share their views is a serious problem. (p. 8)
  • America is first in suicide rate among the G7 countries. (p. 27)
  • America is first in drug-related deaths among thirteen international peer countries. (p. 27)
  • America is ‘second worldwide for depression.’ (p. 27)

Dr. Phil is clearly shocked at what his detailed research confirmed about the American public’s cultural zeitgeist. From 1998 to 2023 the American public registered the following declines in these concepts being “very important to them”:

  • “Patriotism” (70% to 38%) (p. 44)
  • “Religion” (62% to 39%) (p. 44)
  • “Having Children” (59% to 30%) (p. 44)
  • “Community Involvement” (47% to 27%) (p. 44)

He is particularly concerned about the impact our cultural atrophy is inflicting upon our children. “Our current generation,” he writes, “have undergone an unprecedented sabotage of their socialization, self-worth, self-esteem, and educational attainment.” (p. 177)

Dr. Phil has done his fellow Americans a great service by writing this book. He has provided a “handbook,” if you will, of how Americans can have meaningful discussions about very important cultural and moral issues and at the same time provided research material extremely relevant to the discussion.

I cannot unpack all the issues discussed in this highly engrossing and challenging volume. Perhaps one example will suffice to whet your appetite to read it yourself. I really hope people will form “book clubs” to read and discuss the critically important issues he raises in his written dialogue with his fellow Americans.

An example of how Dr. Phil approaches these issues is the decline of church memberships and worship in the United States.

Dr. Phil points out church attendance has been declining rapidly in our country. Church membership and attendance have both steadily declined. “In 1988, 17 percent of Americans said they never attended religious services. By 2021, the number had almost doubled – to 31 percent.” (p. 203)

The famed psychologist cites massive research that reveals that “spirituality is directly associated with psychological well-being. Adults who attend religious services at least monthly as adolescents were more likely to be happy as adults.” (p. 204)

He further points out that the Ten Commandments “form the foundation of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. And there’s a reason these ten things aren’t mere suggestions but are commandments: because society stops functioning if we don’t follow them.” (p. 204)

Dr. Phil, drawing on his own personal experience from the Baptist faith of his adolescence and the massive research at his disposal reminds us: 

“These commandments matter because when you stop worshipping God and start worshipping other gods, you go astray in all kinds of ways...

“It seems that we are, in fact, hardwired to worship some higher being, some higher power, some more perfect ideal.” (p. 208)

“We are not the first people to have decided we don’t have to follow the rules and, instead, we can just make them up as we go along. The prophet Samuel’s very last words in the book of Judges was to observe that the people of Israel had fallen into the ‘my personal truth’ mode, as we now have, and lament that ‘every man did that which was right in his own eyes.’ Rules had gone out the window. The people, back then in Samuel’s day, were making up the rules that were ‘right in their own eyes.’ The moral couldn’t be clearer: society suffered mightily because of it. So will we.”

Dr. Phil is inviting his fellow Americans to an urgent dialogue about who and what we are and want to be. I hope all of you will join the conversation. I know I have.

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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